by Richard Moriarty
He winds up and hurls it at the backstop. It hits the chain-link fence that separates the field from the bleachers, where five college scouts had been sitting two hours before, all five in attendance to evaluate his talent as a pitcher.
Nate returns to the field with a bucket of baseballs after everyone else has left. He waited in his truck for an hour, reading Harvey Dorfman’s The Mental ABCs of Pitching until every other car left the parking lot. He sets the bucket down beside the pitcher’s mound, takes out a ball, and plants his right foot against the pitching rubber. He winds up and hurls it at the backstop. It hits the chain-link fence that separates the field from the bleachers, where five college scouts had been sitting two hours before, all five in attendance to evaluate his talent as a pitcher.
He fires another one that hits the fence about a foot to the left of the one before it, then rolls back toward him on the infield dirt, eventually stopping about halfway between home plate and the mound. He’s hardly taken a breath before grabbing another ball and throwing another; this one hits the dirt in front of home plate first, then bangs up against the fence and dribbles a few feet before coming to a dead stop, like he skipped a rock that only skidded once across the surface of the lake before sinking underneath. There were times during the game earlier that evening when he felt like he was skipping rocks instead of throwing strikes like he’s supposed to. He remembers throwing eight in a row in the dirt, walking in the go-ahead run—the one that would give the opposing team the lead they would not relinquish—as the scouts scribbled notes in notepads and iPhones, then let their minds drift elsewhere.
He goes back to the mound, throws a few more, and realizes he can’t actually see the ball hit the fence anymore.
His next one hits the metal beam that holds the chain-link fence upright. It jumps off the beam, skips past him, and rolls into the outfield grass. He walks out to get it and notices that it’s almost entirely dark out now. He goes back to the mound, throws a few more, and realizes he can’t actually see the ball hit the fence anymore. He only hears the clinks the balls make against the fence, and there is a feeling of quiet power that comes from the clinks being the only perceptible sound. He knows the scouts will stop coming to his games. It was the same way with his brother, who made it to college ball, and even got some attention from pro scouts until seven of them showed up for one of his games on a Friday night and he didn’t make it past the first inning. What Nate doesn’t know: his own desire to turn pro will burn so deep within him that it will create a steadily widening rift between him and his friends, and even his family, as he works his evenings away on a baseball diamond in the dark. He’ll come to prefer it out there, to eventually look back on that field as the place where he learned that desire is the thing that never leaves us.
RICHARD MORIARTY is originally from Kansas City, Mo., and currently lives in Greensboro, N.C., where he teaches at N.C. A&T State University. When his dreams of playing pro baseball didn’t work out, he began writing fiction. His work is also featured in Stymie.